BRISBANE Roar midfielder Thomas Kristensen thought his career was over during the "darkest days" of his lengthy injury absence.
More than four months after his last game of football, Kristensen makes his return when the Roar host Melbourne Victory at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday night.
What the Danish enforcer thought was a minor hamstring issue after playing in Brisbane's 5-1 FFA Cup loss to the Victory at Perry Park in August ended up being a career-threatening setback.
Making matters worse for Kristensen was that nobody could explain the full extent of the injury.
A hamstring problem became a nerve issue, and then he was suddenly feeling pain in different parts of his body.
"It's difficult to explain the injury," Kristensen said.
"We all knew there was something wrong with the hammy, then it was the neural stuff that just kept on, then I had pain somewhere else. It was also difficult for the physio and the doctors because it wasn't an easy injury.
"We've been trying a lot of different things and a lot of them haven't worked, so it's just been setback after setback."
The recovery hurdles were becoming so high that at 34, Kristensen feared he would never play again.
"I really thought about if this was how it was all going to end - they were the darkest days," he said.
"I'm 34-years-old, I'm at the end of my career. I have no time to sit out for so long. I want to play the last couple of years of my career."
Kristensen admitted his injury also took a toll on his wife Sofie, and their two children Oscar and Elme, particularly being so far away from Denmark.
"It's been tough on my family. You're not in the same mood when you're not playing, and then it suddenly comes in as a factor that you're living far away from home," he said.
"You don't have the people around you that you normally do. Of course I have my kids and my wife who has been brilliant, but you don't have your parents and your lifelong friends who you sometimes need in the bad times.
"The club has been really good, the boss (coach John Aloisi) has been really good to help me, and the physio has been brilliant to help me through it, but of course it's not nice that it's taken so long."
Sunday night's clash represents the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for Kristensen.
Whether he starts is irrelevant - he's just happy to be back in the match-day squad.
"This is the longest I've ever been out in my 14-15 year career," the former FC Copenhagen star said.
"Watching the games is the worst, not being able to compete every weekend and not being able to help your teammates.
"I'm looking ahead now. At least now we're getting closer. I've been training fully for the past two weeks.
"I'm still not 100 per cent. The last thing is to get into a game, get a tackle, see that you're not going to break.
"You need that match fitness which you only get by getting some game time."
There is no doubt Kristensen's absence has hurt a Roar side with just 10 points from 10 A-League matches.
Brisbane's engine room has missed his steel, composure and ball-winning ability. Not that he will necessarily agree with that.
"Since I've been injured, I've almost become a better player in a lot of the media's mind," he said.
"It's like 'now he's not there, he's suddenly indispensable and the Roar can't play without him'.
"Then maybe after I play three or four games, it'll be 'he's not that good'.
"I don't think the midfield has been an issue for the team more than all the other issues we have."
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.